It's easy to assume that you slowly lose your rights as a patient as you age, but this is far from the truth thanks to reform passed in the last few decades to reinforce the legal rights of elderly individuals. Just because you need help with basic tasks or are facing age-related mental and physical changes doesn't negate your rights to privacy, dignity, and autonomy. If you've recently encountered any of the common types of patient's rights violations listed below, you should know they're serious enough to warrant the attention of an elder care attorney.
Monitoring or Restricting Communications
Employees of a nursing home, care facility, or hospital have no legal right to record your phone conversations, open and read your mail, or listen in on your chats with other patients or loved ones. If you request privacy and don't receive it, or find out your communications have been recorded or listened to, you may have a case against the individuals and the facility itself. Even if a facility tries to set a policy regarding recording of communications, it is most likely not legally binding because it violates state and federal laws regarding a patient's right to personal privacy.
Retaliating After or Blocking Complaints
Every hospital, care facility, doctor's office, and other organization involved in the medical care of an elderly patient must have a clear policy for receiving complaints about their service. Organizations that attempt to ignore or block a patient from filing a complaint should definitely receive the attention of an elder law expert. There can be no actions taken after a complaint that could be considered retaliation either, such as moving a patient or downgrading the amount of care they receive. Any patient that states that they need to make a complaint should be assisted in their request by the facility itself in whatever way possible.
Restricting Financial Information
Many elderly patients living in long-term care arrangements find their caretakers refusing to explain the costs of certain extra services due to the claim that it's not their concern, especially if Medicare is involved in paying for part or all of the costs. However, this is untrue because all patients regardless of age or condition have a right to know all financial details regarding their care. Your nursing home or other facility should provide you with a list of all related costs, in writing, any time you request them and at any time there is a change in costs.
Sharing Medical and Personal Information
It's a difficult task for doctors and nurses to balance how much information to share with your loved ones and family members while you're in the hospital or undergoing long-term care. It's tempting for them to share everything with your concerned family, but you retain your legal right to privacy unless you've specifically consented to include certain people in your medical care. With just 5% of elderly patients surveyed responding that they were specifically asked for consent in sharing information with their family members, this is one of the most common violations of a patient's rights. Even if you had no problem with the doctor telling your child or spouse about your condition, you should stand up for your privacy if you didn't consent because it sets a better precedent to demand all of your rights are taken seriously.
Changing Locations Within or Between Facilities
Finally, a patient and their legally involved caregivers all have the right to know about and appeal against decisions taken by a facility to move, transfer, or discharge a patient. There are many stories about elderly patients with dementia being discharged without notice and going missing before family members are notified. Holding the facility to their legal obligation to give advanced warning of all moves, even within the same building or medical center, is essential to prevent these kinds of dangerous mistakes.